Civic Solidarity Platform Appeal with Regard to the Recent Events in Belarus

Aug 12 2020

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY SHOULD REACT IMMEDIATELY AND STRONGLY TO RIGGED PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS AND MASSIVE VIOLENCE OF SECURITY FORCES AGAINST PEACEFUL PROTESTORS IN BELARUS

Appeal by members of the Civic Solidarity Platform

10 August 2020

The undersigned organizations, members of the Civic Solidarity Platform, express their shock and outrage about the way the 9 August presidential elections in Belarus have been manipulated by the government.

We support peaceful protests of Belarusians against this flagrant violation of standards for the conduct of elections agreed in the OSCE. We strongly denounce disproportionate and excessive use of violence by security forces and mass detention of several thousand of protest participants across the country.

The weeks preceding the election day have been marred by systemic and systematic violations of fundamental rights and freedoms. This created no conditions for free and fair elections according to international standards. We have witnessed independent candidates illegally disqualified from running in elections. Several candidates, their supporters, and others questioning the current government policies were persecuted through penal and administrative means, and their freedom of expression was severely limited. According to Belarusian human rights organizations, 26 political prisoners were held in detention in the run-up to the elections. Independent domestic observation of the elections has been thwarted under false pretexts, and many independent observers were illegally detained. International election observation, including by the OSCE, was blocked by the authorities. Media coverage was severely restricted.

On the election day, the few independent election observers who were present at the polling stations, as well as journalists and civic activists, have reported mass falsifications. A number of foreign journalists were detained and taken to the police stations due to lacking accreditation which most of them applied for in a timely manner but received rejections. Internet and mobile connection in the country was poor since early morning of the election day and most of social media and independent news sites were blocked. By the evening, military vehicles arrived in Minsk and public transport was shut down. After the preliminary official results were announced in the evening, mass peaceful protests started in the city centers in Minsk, Brest, Mogilev and dozens of other cities across the country. Witnesses reported brutal assaults of the protestors by the riot police. They used water cannons, flash grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas, and brutal force against the protestors. Dozens of injured protesters are in hospitals; several are in critical conditions. According to the official data, at least three thousand protestors have been detained. We consider disproportionate and brutal use of force and detention of protestors illegal.

Given the developments in the run-up to the elections and on the election day, we consider these elections the most violent and non-transparent in the modern history of Belarus. Official results of the elections cannot be considered reflecting the true will of Belarusian people.

We demand that the Belarusian authorities:

  • Acknowledge massive irregularities in holding the elections and publish the election results reflecting the true choice of the Belarusian people;
  • Engage in direct dialogue with representatives of independent candidates to negotiate a peaceful and legal way out of the crisis;
  • Immediately stop unwarranted violence against protesters, release the detained, and respect the right to peaceful assembly;
  • Observe the rights of all detainees and immediately notify their families about their whereabouts and provide unhindered access for lawyers;
  • Hold an independent, prompt and effective investigation of cases of violence, with maximum transparency and under international control, to end impunity on the part of the security forces;
  • End the blocking of the Internet and obstructing the work of journalists.

We call on the international community, and in particular other OSCE participating States:

  • Not to recognize the election outcome that has been officially announced;
  • Direct urgent efforts towards de-escalation and launching a mediated dialogue on a peaceful way out of the crisis respecting the principles of international law, that would include all sectors of Belarusian society that want to engage on this basis;
  • Hold an urgent discussion in the OSCE on the crisis in Belarus, and consider the invoking the OSCE Moscow Mechanism as the most relevant and expedient way to hold an internationally trusted investigation into the events in Belarus;
  • Hold urgent consultations in the EU on the events in Belarus and consider relevant and adequate reaction to the possibly most violent and non-transparent elections in the modern Belarus history;
  • Hold an urgent debate on the crisis in Belarus at the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council. We urge the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights to take a lead in the UN Human Rights reaction to the events in Belarus and the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus to produce an urgent report and present it to the upcoming session of the UN General Assembly.

List of organizations supporting the appeal:

  1. Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine)
  2. Center for Participation and Development (Georgia)
  3. Truth Hounds (Ukraine)
  4. Hungarian Helsinki Committee
  5. Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors on Law Enforcement (Ukraine)
  6. Public Verdict Foundation (Russia)
  7. Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
  8. Foundation of Regional Initiatives (Ukraine)
  9. Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia
  10. International Partnership for Human Rights (Belgium)
  11. World Organization against Torture (OMCT) (Belgium)
  12. Human Rights Center (Georgia)
  13. Kharkiv Regional Foundation Public Alternative (Ukraine)
  14. Public Association “Dignity” (Kazakhstan)
  15. Netherlands Helsinki Committee
  16. Human Rights Center ZMINA (Ukraine)
  17. Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly – Vanadzor (Armenia)
  18. DRA – German-Russian Exchange (Germany)
  19. Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights (Russia)
  20. The Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
  21. Freedom Files (Poland)
  22. Office of Civil Freedoms (Tajikistan)
  23. Human Rights House Foundation (Norway)
  24. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland)
  25. Social Action Centre (Ukraine)
  26. Public Association “Human Rights Movement: Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan”
  27. Swiss Helsinki Committee
  28. Citizens’ Watch (Russia)
  29. Norwegian Helsinki Committee
  30. Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety (Azerbaijan/Switzerland)
  31. Human Rights Club (Azerbaijan/Switzerland)
  32. Moscow Helsinki Group (Russia)
  33. Public Foundation “Voice of Freedom” (Kyrgyzstan)
  34. Human Rights Center Memorial (Russia)
  35. OSCE Network (Sweden)
  36. SOVA Center for Information and Analysis (Russia)
  37. Women of the Don (Russia)
  38. The Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan
  39. Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law
  40. Helsinki Association (Armenia)
  41. The Georgian Centre for Psychosocial and Medial Rehabilitation of Torture Victims – GCRT
  42. humanrights.ch (Switzerland)
  43. Promo LEX (Moldova)
  44. Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Slovakia
  45. Free Russia Foundation (the U.S., Ukraine, Georgia, the Czech Republic)

Originally published by Civic Solidarity Platform

Photo credit: TUT.BY

Appeal by members of the Civic Solidarity Platform

10 August 2020

The undersigned organizations, members of the Civic Solidarity Platform, express their shock and outrage about the way the 9 August presidential elections in Belarus have been manipulated by the government.

We support peaceful protests of Belarusians against this flagrant violation of standards for the conduct of elections agreed in the OSCE. We strongly denounce disproportionate and excessive use of violence by security forces and mass detention of several thousand of protest participants across the country.

The weeks preceding the election day have been marred by systemic and systematic violations of fundamental rights and freedoms. This created no conditions for free and fair elections according to international standards. We have witnessed independent candidates illegally disqualified from running in elections. Several candidates, their supporters, and others questioning the current government policies were persecuted through penal and administrative means, and their freedom of expression was severely limited. According to Belarusian human rights organizations, 26 political prisoners were held in detention in the run-up to the elections. Independent domestic observation of the elections has been thwarted under false pretexts, and many independent observers were illegally detained. International election observation, including by the OSCE, was blocked by the authorities. Media coverage was severely restricted.

On the election day, the few independent election observers who were present at the polling stations, as well as journalists and civic activists, have reported mass falsifications. A number of foreign journalists were detained and taken to the police stations due to lacking accreditation which most of them applied for in a timely manner but received rejections. Internet and mobile connection in the country was poor since early morning of the election day and most of social media and independent news sites were blocked. By the evening, military vehicles arrived in Minsk and public transport was shut down. After the preliminary official results were announced in the evening, mass peaceful protests started in the city centers in Minsk, Brest, Mogilev and dozens of other cities across the country. Witnesses reported brutal assaults of the protestors by the riot police. They used water cannons, flash grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas, and brutal force against the protestors. Dozens of injured protesters are in hospitals; several are in critical conditions. According to the official data, at least three thousand protestors have been detained. We consider disproportionate and brutal use of force and detention of protestors illegal.

Given the developments in the run-up to the elections and on the election day, we consider these elections the most violent and non-transparent in the modern history of Belarus. Official results of the elections cannot be considered reflecting the true will of Belarusian people.

We demand that the Belarusian authorities:

  • Acknowledge massive irregularities in holding the elections and publish the election results reflecting the true choice of the Belarusian people;
  • Engage in direct dialogue with representatives of independent candidates to negotiate a peaceful and legal way out of the crisis;
  • Immediately stop unwarranted violence against protesters, release the detained, and respect the right to peaceful assembly;
  • Observe the rights of all detainees and immediately notify their families about their whereabouts and provide unhindered access for lawyers;
  • Hold an independent, prompt and effective investigation of cases of violence, with maximum transparency and under international control, to end impunity on the part of the security forces;
  • End the blocking of the Internet and obstructing the work of journalists.

We call on the international community, and in particular other OSCE participating States:

  • Not to recognize the election outcome that has been officially announced;
  • Direct urgent efforts towards de-escalation and launching a mediated dialogue on a peaceful way out of the crisis respecting the principles of international law, that would include all sectors of Belarusian society that want to engage on this basis;
  • Hold an urgent discussion in the OSCE on the crisis in Belarus, and consider the invoking the OSCE Moscow Mechanism as the most relevant and expedient way to hold an internationally trusted investigation into the events in Belarus;
  • Hold urgent consultations in the EU on the events in Belarus and consider relevant and adequate reaction to the possibly most violent and non-transparent elections in the modern Belarus history;
  • Hold an urgent debate on the crisis in Belarus at the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council. We urge the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights to take a lead in the UN Human Rights reaction to the events in Belarus and the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus to produce an urgent report and present it to the upcoming session of the UN General Assembly.

List of organizations supporting the appeal:

  1. Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine)
  2. Center for Participation and Development (Georgia)
  3. Truth Hounds (Ukraine)
  4. Hungarian Helsinki Committee
  5. Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors on Law Enforcement (Ukraine)
  6. Public Verdict Foundation (Russia)
  7. Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
  8. Foundation of Regional Initiatives (Ukraine)
  9. Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia
  10. International Partnership for Human Rights (Belgium)
  11. World Organization against Torture (OMCT) (Belgium)
  12. Human Rights Center (Georgia)
  13. Kharkiv Regional Foundation Public Alternative (Ukraine)
  14. Public Association “Dignity” (Kazakhstan)
  15. Netherlands Helsinki Committee
  16. Human Rights Center ZMINA (Ukraine)
  17. Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly – Vanadzor (Armenia)
  18. DRA – German-Russian Exchange (Germany)
  19. Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights (Russia)
  20. The Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
  21. Freedom Files (Poland)
  22. Office of Civil Freedoms (Tajikistan)
  23. Human Rights House Foundation (Norway)
  24. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland)
  25. Social Action Centre (Ukraine)
  26. Public Association “Human Rights Movement: Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan”
  27. Swiss Helsinki Committee
  28. Citizens’ Watch (Russia)
  29. Norwegian Helsinki Committee
  30. Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety (Azerbaijan/Switzerland)
  31. Human Rights Club (Azerbaijan/Switzerland)
  32. Moscow Helsinki Group (Russia)
  33. Public Foundation “Voice of Freedom” (Kyrgyzstan)
  34. Human Rights Center Memorial (Russia)
  35. OSCE Network (Sweden)
  36. SOVA Center for Information and Analysis (Russia)
  37. Women of the Don (Russia)
  38. The Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan
  39. Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law
  40. Helsinki Association (Armenia)
  41. The Georgian Centre for Psychosocial and Medial Rehabilitation of Torture Victims – GCRT
  42. humanrights.ch (Switzerland)
  43. Promo LEX (Moldova)
  44. Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Slovakia
  45. Free Russia Foundation (the U.S., Ukraine, Georgia, the Czech Republic)

Originally published by Civic Solidarity Platform

Photo credit: TUT.BY

Lukashenka’s Ryanair Hijacking Proves Human Rights is a Global Security Issue

May 24 2021

The forced diversion and landing in Minsk of a May 23, 2021 Ryanair flight en route from Greece to Lithuania, and the subsequent arrest of dissident Roman Protasevich who was aboard the flight, by the illegitimate Lukashenka regime pose an overt political and military challenge to Europe, NATO and the broad global community.  NATO members must respond forcefully by demanding (1) the immediate release of Protasevich and other political prisoners in Belarus, and (2) a prompt transition to a government that represents the will of the people of Belarus. 

The West’s passivity in the face of massive, continuous and growing oppression of the Belarusian people since summer 2020 has emboldened Lukashenka to commit what some European leaders have appropriately termed an act of “state terrorism.”

The West has shown a manifest disposition to appease Putin’s regime —Lukashenka’s sole security guarantor. It has made inappropriate overtures for a Putin-Biden summit and waived  Nord Stream 2 sanctions mandated by Congress. These actions and signals have come against the backdrop of the 2020 Russian constitutional coup, the assassination attempt against Navalny and his subsequent imprisonment on patently bogus charges, the arrests of close to 13,000 Russian activists, and the outlawing of all opposition movements and activities. All this has led Putin and Lukashenka to conclude that they eliminate their political opponents with impunity.  

Today’s state-ordered hijacking of an international passenger airplane—employing intelligence agents aboard the flight,  and accomplished via an advanced fighter-interceptor—to apprehend an exiled activist, underscores that violation of human rights is not only a domestic issue, but a matter of international safety and security.  Western governments unwilling to stand up for the victims of Putin’s and Lukashenka’s regimes are inviting future crimes against their own citizens. 

Absent a meaningful and swift response, the escalation of violence and intensity of international crimes committed  by Lukashenka’s and Putin’s regime will continue, destabilizing the world and discrediting the Western democratic institutions. 

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS – THE KREMLIN’S INFLUENCE QUARTERLY

May 20 2021

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly, a journal that explores and analyzes manifestations of the malign influence of Putin’s Russia in Europe.

We understand malign influence in the European context as a specific type of influence that directly or indirectly subverts and undermines European values and democratic institutions. We follow the Treaty on European Union in understanding European values that are the following: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Democratic institutions are guardians of European values, and among them, we highlight representative political parties; free and fair elections; an impartial justice system; free, independent and pluralistic media; and civil society.

Your contribution to The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly would focus on one European country from the EU, Eastern Partnership or Western Balkans, and on one particular area where you want to explore Russian malign influence: politics, diplomacy, military domain, business, media, civil society, academia, religion, crime, or law.

Each chapter in The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly should be around 5 thousand words including footnotes. The Free Russia Foundation offers an honorarium for contributions accepted for publication in the journal.

If you are interested in submitting a chapter, please send us a brief description of your chapter and its title (250 words) to the following e-mail address: info@4freerussia.org. Please put The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly as a subject line of your message.

Criminal operations by Russia’s GRU worldwide: expert discussion

May 06 2021

Please join Free Russia Foundation for an expert brief and discussion on latest criminal operations conducted by Russia’s GRU worldwide with:

  • Christo Grozev, Bellingcat— the legendary investigator who uncovered the Kremlin’s involvement, perpetrators and timeline of Navalny’s assassination attempt. 
  • Jakub Janda, Director of the European Values Think Tank (the Czech Republic) where he researches Russia’s hostile influence operations in the West
  • Michael Weiss, Director of Special Investigations at Free Russia Foundation where he leads the Lubyanka Files project, which consists of translating and curating KGB training manuals still used in modern Russia for the purposes of educating Vladimir Putin’s spies.

The event will take place on Tuesday, May 11 from 11 am to 12:30pm New York Time (17:00 in Brussels) and include an extensive Q&A with the audience moderated by Ilya Zaslavskiy, Senior Fellow at Free Russia Foundation and head of Underminers.info, a research project on post-Soviet kleptocracy

The event will be broadcast live at: https://www.facebook.com/events/223365735790798/

  • The discussion will cover Russia’s most recent and ongoing covert violent operations, direct political interference, oligarchic penetration with money and influence; 
  • GRU’s structure and approach to conducting operations in Europe
  • Trends and forecasts on how data availability will impact both, the Kremlin’s operations and their investigation by governments and activists; 
  • EU and national European government response and facilitation of operations on their soil; 
  • Recommendations for effective counter to the security and political threats posed by Russian security services. 

YouTube Against Navalny’s Smart Voting

May 06 2021

On May 6, 2020, at least five YouTube channels belonging to key Russian opposition leaders and platforms received notifications from YouTube that some of their content had been removed due to its being qualified as “spam, deceptive practices and scams”. 

They included: 

Ilya Yashin (343k YouTube subscribers)

Vladimir Milov (218k YouTube subscribers) 

Leonid Volkov (117k YouTube subscribers)

Novaya Gazeta (277k YouTube Subscribers) 

Sota Vision (248k YouTube Subscribers)

Most likely, there are other Russian pro-democracy channels that have received similar notifications at the same time, and we are putting together the list of all affected by this censorship campaign. 

The identical letters received from YouTube by the five account holders stated:

“Our team has reviewed your content, and, unfortunately, we think it violates our spam, deceptive practices and scams policy. We’ve removed the following content from YouTube:

URL: https://votesmart.appspot.com/

YouTube has removed urls from descriptions of videos posted on these accounts that linked to Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting website (votesmart.appspot.com).

By doing this, and to our great shock and disbelief, YouTube has acted to enforce the Kremlin’s policies by qualifying Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting system and its website as “spam, deceptive practices and scams”. 

This action has not only technically disrupted communication for the Russian civil society which is now under a deadly siege by Putin’s regime, but it has rendered a serious and lasting damage to its reputation and legitimacy of Smart Voting approach. 

In reality, Smart Voting system is not a spam, scam or a “deceptive practice”, but instead it’s a fully legitimate system of choosing and supporting candidates in Russian elections who have a chance of winning against the ruling “United Russia” party candidates. There’s absolutely nothing illegal, deceptive or fraudulent about the Smart Voting or any materials on its website.

We don’t know the reasons behind such YouTube actions, but they are an unacceptable suppression of a constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the Russian people and help the Kremlin’s suppression of civil rights and freedoms by banning the Smart Voting system and not allowing free political competition with the ruling “United Russia” party. 

This is an extremely dangerous precedent in an environment where opposition activities in Russia are being literally outlawed;  key opposition figures are jailed, exiled, arrested and attacked with criminal investigations; independent election campaigning is prohibited; and social media networks remain among the very few channels still available to the Russian opposition to communicate with the ordinary Russians.

We demand a  swift and decisive action on this matter from the international community, to make sure that YouTube corrects its stance toward Russian opposition channels, and ensures that such suppression of peaceful, legal  pro-democracy voices does not happen again. 

FRF Lauds New US Sanctions Targeting the Kremlin’s Perpetrators in Crimea, Calls for Their Expansion

Apr 15 2021

On April 15, 2021,  President Biden signed new sanctions against a number of officials and agents of the Russian Federation in connection with malign international activities conducted by the Russian government.

The list of individuals sanctioned by the new law includes Leonid Mikhalyuk, director of the Federal Security Service in the Russian-occupied Crimea.

A report issued by Free Russia Foundation, Media Initiative for Human Rights and Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union in December 202, identified 16 officials from Russian law enforcement and security agencies as well as the judiciary operating on the territory of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula currently occupied by the Russian Federation. These individuals have been either directly involved or have overseen political persecution of three prominent Crimean human rights defenders – Emir-Usein Kuku, Sever Mustafayev and Emil Kurbedinov.

Leonid Mikhailiuk is one of these officials. He has been directly involved and directed the repressive campaign in the occupied Crimea, including persecution of innocent people on terrorism charges and massive illegal searches. The persecution of Server Mustafayev was conducted under his supervision. As the head of the FSB branch in Crimea, he is in charge of its operation and all operatives working on politically motivated cases are his subordinates. 

Within the extremely centralized system of the Russian security services, Mikhailiuk is clearly at the top rank of organized political persecution and human rights violations.

Free Russia Foundation welcomes the new sanctions and hopes that all other individuals identified in the report will also be held accountable.